102 HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION
of fact and fiction, adorned with the fancies of a pious credulity
which attached more importance to edification than to historical
It is necessary to keep this in mind in considering the part
played by monasticism in education. The commonly accepted
belief is that the monks were the pioneers of education in Europe
after the fall of the Roman Empire. In spite of the fact that
tradition connects schools with many monasteries in the Dark
Ages, this gives a rather misleading impression of the origins
of European education. Monasticism was a movement which
attracted to itself earnest men of the most diverse character and
attainments, and the forms it assumed were correspondingly
diverse. But even granting the possibility of exceptional cases,
it may be safely said that the ascetic spirit which dominated the
movement was generally unfavourable to educational work.
Men who had left the world to seek salvation in seclusion from
their fellows were little likely to be interested in learning for
themselves, or to be desirous of imparting it to others.
In the Fourth Century, it is true, there were men like St.
Jerome who clung passionately to their books after renouncing
everything else, and found satisfaction in the imparting of secular
instruction as part of their religious duties; and so long as the
culture of the ordinary schools kept the zeal for learning alive,
there must have been not a few devout persons of a like mind.
A notable case of the kind, which deserves attention before we
go on to consider the more typical educational features of
monasticism, is that of Cassiodorus, who was born in South
Italy sometime about 480. The greater part of his life was spent
as a statesman in the service of the enlightened Ostro-Gothic
kings who ruled Italy in the opening decades of the Sixth Century.
Towards the end of his political career he planned to establish
a Christian school in Rome in which public teachers would
combine instruction in sacred literature with a training in the
liberal arts. But his scheme was frustrated by the outbreak of
war, and a few years later (about 540) he withdrew from the world
and established two monasteries. Once again his thoughts
turned to education. In addition to certain commentaries on
the Scriptures, he compiled for the benefit of his monks a treatise
entitled Institutiones divinarum et s&cularum lectionum, the first
part of which was devoted to sacred literature, the second to the